commercial revolution


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commercial revolution,

in European history, a fundamental change in the quantity and scope of commerce. In the later Middle Ages steady economic expansion had seen the rise of towns and the advent of private banking, a money economy, and trading organizations such as the Hanseatic LeagueHanseatic League
, mercantile league of medieval German towns. It was amorphous in character; its origin cannot be dated exactly. Originally a Hansa was a company of merchants trading with foreign lands.
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. Under the new national monarchies, most notably those of Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands, and England, markets grew wider and more secure. Commercial expansion was supported by technical improvements in seafaring, and from about 1450 explorations were made, first to Africa, then to the Asia and the New World. By the mid-16th cent. the Asia carrying trade had been wrested from the Arabs, and Eastern goods poured into Europe. From the New World came gold and silver, which in less than a century more than doubled European prices and greatly stimulated economic activity.

The focus of commerce shifted from Mediterranean to Atlantic ports, chartered companieschartered companies,
associations for foreign trade, exploration, and colonization that came into existence with the formation of the European nation states and their overseas expansion. An association received its charter from the state and sometimes had state support.
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 were organized, and continued improvements in navigation and ship construction sped long voyages. As a worldwide trade evolved, the principles of mercantilismmercantilism
, economic system of the major trading nations during the 16th, 17th, and 18th cent., based on the premise that national wealth and power were best served by increasing exports and collecting precious metals in return.
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 were adopted, and local trade barriers were abrogated, stimulating internal commerce. Modern credit facilities also appeared; new institutions included the state bank, the bourse, and the futures market, and the promissory note and other new media of exchange were created. Quickened commercial activity brought economic specialization, thus leading to the transformations in production associated with modern capitalism. By 1700 the stage was set for the Industrial RevolutionIndustrial Revolution,
term usually applied to the social and economic changes that mark the transition from a stable agricultural and commercial society to a modern industrial society relying on complex machinery rather than tools.
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.

Bibliography

See H. A. Miskimin, The Economy of Early Renaissance Europe, 1300–1460 (1969); J. Gies, Merchants and Moneymen (1972); M. M. Postan, Medieval Trade and Finance (1973); P. Spufford, Power and Profit: The Merchant in Medieval Europe (2003).

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